Feb. 24, 2009
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- Iowa-Illinois Game Notes (Feb. 24)
IOWA CITY, Iowa — ‘Iowa Girl’ Nicole VanderPol will pull on the No. 43 uniform a final time in front of the Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd Thursday as five University of Iowa seniors play their last regular-season home game against Illinois.
VanderPol, a native of Grundy Center, Iowa, played 18 minutes in two games this season, making all three field goal attempts with seven rebounds. Her season ended because of an issue with poor blood circulation.
“It makes me happy to think I’ll go back out there,” VanderPol said. “I don’t care if it’s at the end of the game. Just being able to be out there with the four girls I came in with is going to be a lot of fun.”
The Hawkeyes (18-9 overall, 11-5 Big Ten Conference) are 12-1 at home this season. They have won four straight games and 10 of their last 12. Illinois is 8-19, 4-12, and lost to Iowa 72-62 in Champaign on Jan. 15. The Illini are 4-5 in road games. Tipoff is 8:06 p.m. and the game will be televised live to a national cable audience on the Big Ten Network.
“Illinois is one of those dangerous teams,” UI head coach Lisa Bluder said. “Jenna Smith is by far one of the better posts in the league and we’re going to have to do a great job on her. Lacey Simpson has stepped up and done a very nice job at the power forward position. It’s going to be another competitive game.”
Smith averages 18.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game and Simpson averages 11.2 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.
Other UI seniors are Wendy Ausdemore, Lindsey Nyenhuis, Megan Skouby and Kristi Smith. Ausdemore (1,276 points, 465 rebounds), Skouby (1,389- 499) and Smith (1,393-257) have combined to score 4,058 career points with 1,221 rebounds, making them the highest-scoring trio of Big Ten women’s basketball players on the same team and in the same graduating class. Nyenhuis has played in 66 games (29 as a sophomore) and scored 204 points.
“I can hardly believe we’re sitting here talking about our last (regular-season home game) for these seniors,” Bluder said. “It’s going to be tough to say goodbye to them. It helps a little bit knowing that most likely we’re going to be back here in Carver-Hawkeye Arena for a couple more games. It’s amazing to think that four years has gone by. They’ve meant a lot to our program.”
Iowa is one of 16 first and second-round hosts for the 2009 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship on Sunday, March 22, and Tuesday, March 24.
“I can hardly believe we’re sitting here talking about our last (regular-season home game) for these seniors. It’s going to be tough to say goodbye to them. It helps a little bit knowing that most likely we’re going to be back here in Carver-Hawkeye Arena for a couple more games. It’s amazing to think that four years has gone by. They’ve meant a lot to our program.”
UI head coach Lisa Bluder
“I wouldn’t want to take any chances,” Bluder said about an NCAA berth. “I feel confident and I think our team feels confident and that’s how we should feel right now. I certainly wouldn’t want to put any doubt in anybody’s mind in these last couple weeks.”
This group of five Hawkeye seniors has compiled a record of 70-48 (.593) overall, 40-26 (.606) in the Big Ten. They are in line for a third trip to the NCAA Tournament and Iowa shared the regular season Big Ten championship a season ago. If all goes according to plan, the five could be together one final time for a curtain call.
“The goal would be to have Nicole get out on the floor and get up and down one or two times again,” Bluder said. “I haven’t thought as far as getting all five on the floor at the same time, but hopefully we can at least get Nicole on the floor.”
VanderPol, a two-time first-team all-state performer in high school, has scored 211 career points with 138 rebounds. She seemed destined to play at Iowa.
“That’s emotional to me when I see players who are grown women now and I see pictures of them as children,” Bluder said. “There’s a great one of Nicole wearing an Iowa t-shirt. It’s so significant because even when she was three years old, one of her dreams was to be a Hawkeye.”
How would Bluder like the 2009 senior class to be remembered?
“As national champions would be nice,” she said. “I hope people remember them not only for their basketball success but for their academic success and the quality people that they are. These women are absolutely the whole picture. They’ve been wonderful ambassadors for our program.”
Iowa is currently fourth in the conference standings, two games behind league-leader Ohio State with two games to go. The Hawkeyes were 13-5 in league games last year, the most Big Ten wins since 1995-96.
Gina Glocksen, the ninth-place finisher in the 2007 American Idol competition, will sing the national anthem Thursday, perform a song at halftime and sign autographs. Glocksen and Nyenhuis are friends.
“It could be a whole celebratory kind of festival here in Carver,” Bluder said. “We’re hoping a lot of people come out for her performance. I know that would mean a lot for Lindsey Nyenhuis.”
The Hawkeyes will conclude the regular season on Sunday, March 1, at Northwestern with a 2:05 p.m. tip. Iowa won the first meeting at home, 74-46, on Jan. 18.
“It is so dangerous on the road in this league,” Bluder said.